MPs of all stripes in push to make medicinal marijuana legal

Dan Haslam, who has cancer and uses marijuana to relieve pain. Federal MPs have formed a groups to push for changes to legalise marijuana for medicinal use. Photo: Geoff O’NeillThe Pulse Live with Judith Ireland

A multi-party group of federal MPs will on Thursday launch a push to make cannabis legally available for medicinal purposes.

The parliamentary group on drug policy and law reform, convened by Labor, Liberal and Green MPs will begin advancing the issue with a discussion in Parliament House including Lucy Haslam, whose 24-year-old son Dan has terminal cancer and takes cannabis – illegally – to treat the nausea associated with his chemotherapy.

One of the convenors of the group, Liberal MP Sharman Stone, said the nation should seriously consider how cannabis might be provided to people to promote health or reduce suffering.

”If this product really works in the sense of reducing pain or improving the mobility or other health outcomes for some people and it can be administered under medical supervision, then it would be terrible to think we denied people access to that product,” she told Fairfax Media.

Dr Stone also said the nation should explore the potential of hemp – a variety of cannabis plant which produces, oil, seeds and fibre –  as an alternative crop for farmers.

”It’s one of those things that should be almost a no-brainer, instead of being too hot to handle, and so our growers miss out on an opportunity to make themselves less dependent on a single crop and to make more money,” Dr Stone said.

Agriculture Minister Barnaby Joyce, whose seat of New England is home to the Haslams, recently met the family and formed the view that just as opium had long been used to relieve pain, ”there may now be a place for the medicinal properties of cannabis”.

”Provided it is approved by the Therapeutic Goods Administration and is medically supervised it should be considered,” Mr Joyce said.

Labor MP Melissa Parke, a co-convenor of the group of MPs, said it was ”time for Australia to move forward on this issue”.

”There is substantial and growing evidence of the medicinal value of cannabis, particularly as symptomatic relief in circumstances where no other drug is effective, but also for its curative potential,” Ms Parke said.

”We can’t allow a cultural stigma to prevent fair recognition and properly regulated use of a naturally derived substance that provides relief to people in terrible pain, or the prospect of a reprieve from serious illness.”

Another co-convenor of the group, Greens Senator Richard Di Natale, who is also a medical doctor, said cannabis had been shown to be effective in relieving nausea, stimulating appetite and treating muscle spasms.

”It’s a drug, like any other drug, that needs to be tightly regulated, but to deny somebody who is suffering with a terminal illness effective medication . . . is shameful,” Senator Di Natale said.

”It’s done because people are too worried by the stigma associated with cannabis. They don’t have the courage to look at the science and the evidence, which is very clear.”

Senator Di Natale said the federal government could licence growers of cannabis and allow the drug to be dispensed by pharmacies.

Mrs Haslam said cannabis had been a ”game changer” for her son, relieving his extreme nausea and allowing him to regain weight.

”This is the one and only thing giving him an element of hope,” she said.

The Australian Medical Association acknowledges that cannabis ”has constituents that have potential therapeutic uses,” and these should be made available to patients if clinical trials established that they were safe and effective.

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